Pierre (Pseudonym of Pierre Fournier) Gascar Nancy Willard - Essay

Nancy Willard

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If Heraclitus had written fiction, it would have resembled the novels and stories of Pierre Gascar, where earth, air, fire, and water, and the vivid creation which they support are no less alive than man himself. Gascar's tales are like those enormous medieval tapestries, where princes and violets are set down with equal clarity, and the prince must share the stage with water, owl's ears, and the webbing of frog's feet…. [In] his stories simplest acts become ancient rites: he sees his own life blessed with the permanence of a myth.

In his collections of stories, Les bêtes, Les femmes, soleils, and his autobiographical writings, La graine and Le meilleur de la vie, good and evil have the taste of water and sun, guilt and hate have the sting of blood and salt. They cannot be separated, for more than an act of language keeps them together. The elements participate directly in the lives of his characters, fuse with their values and surround them with an ethical landscape of their own making. Transformed to a wasteland or a garden, nature mirrors their acts of hate or acts of love, just as an internal conflict, says Gascar, may be triggered or reinforced by a symbol. (pp. 104-05)

With symbols Gascar makes a new language. He never writes of ideas but fuses them with the material world where they were born…. Like Bergson, Gascar believes that when you try to describe your feelings, spreading out in space what occurred in time, you lose the very nuances you want to seize…. Symbols allow Gascar both to order his experience and to avoid the generalities that destroy its vitality. (p. 105)

The syntax of Gascar's experience is concrete things. Le meilleur de la vie contains a curious defense of that syntax. A harnessmaker and a wheelwright engage in a verbal dual to see who can invent the most fantastic images. The result is a strange yoking of things and properties: trumpets of sunshine, snails' boot, and woolen pistols, an inventory from a world of dreams. Each utterance seems to transfigure the dim workshops where they are announced. (p. 106)

Language always buckles when you have to deal with the anarchy of nature….

Threatened with anarchy, man tries to impose his will on nature, by naming it, denying it, possessing it, and killing it. Hunting, says Gascar, is an attempt to arrive at a world where animals have names. (p. 107)

Confronting nature, man confronts his fate as well. Fate is the final power, the man who comes to arrest you, the trapdoor at the end, the stone hat of death. Yet it is also a power carried in ourselves, a power we hardly know until we commit the crime of which we thought we were incapable, so that we look to the gods for an explanation. Gascar's favorite image for fate is the blind man. (p. 109)

Gascar shows man hunting beasts and man hunting man as if he were a beast. In both cases, the possibility of love is destroyed. Fate shines brightest in the lives of the poor or the outcast, and Gascar allies himself with both. (pp. 109-10)

What astonishes the reader in La graine is Gascar's...

(The entire section is 1308 words.)